In The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald shows the corruption of the America Dream in 1920s America. With reference to appropriately selected parts of the novel, and relevant external contextual information on the nature of the American Dream, give your response to the above view. The American Dream was aptly summarised by James Truslow Adams: “a better, richer and happier life for all our citizens of every rank, which is the greatest contribution we have made to the thought and welfare of the world.
” The American Dream promised fresh new beginnings, a classless society and a land of wealth and opportunity for all.
This was the ideal behind the affluent society of 1920s America. However, in The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald clearly presents a thorough corruption of the American Dream. To quote Bernie Sanders, “For many, the American Dream has become a nightmare. ” In examining the corruption of the dream, a good place to start is the class divide. Fitzgerald paints a clear picture of a society that is deeply divided by class.
Even the upper class is divided amongst itself; Nick inhabits West Egg along with ‘new-money’ people such as Gatsby, whereas East Egg is inhabited by those with ‘old money’ such as the Buchanans.
Nick describes a, “bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. ” However, the greatest example of a class divide stems from the intense poverty of the Valley of Ashes. Fitzgerald deliberately places this after the extravagance of chapter one in order to have maximum impact on the reader.
We are presented with an area that bears closer resemblance to the slums of the third world rather than an economically thriving western nation such as America. It is described as, “a certain desolate area of land,” and, “the solemn dumping ground. The American Dream was supposed to guarantee equality for all, yet these divides suggest the dream has been thoroughly corrupted. Fitzgerald presents what is one of the major drawbacks of capitalism: unequal distribution of wealth. In the 1920s, prior to the Great Depression, the distribution of wealth was uneven due to most of the money going to America’s rich and not being evenly distributed to everyone in the United States. This type of distribution meant a gradual decline in the people’s spending power. The top 1 percent of Americans each had a wealth equal to the bottom 42 percent combined.
That same 1 percent controlled 34 percent of all savings. Mary Elizabeth Lease wrote, “Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, for the people and by the people, but a government for Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street. ” We see this through characters such as George Wilson, who struggles to make a living in a world of rampant capitalism. This is not a society that promises its people wealth and equality. Instead, it is a brutal society where the number of figures on your salary defines your worth as a human being, a true corruption of the American dream.
Further support for the proposition that Fitzgerald presents a corrupted vision of the American dream can be found through the clear abandonment of traditional morality from most of the characters. There is a myriad of extra-marital affairs and rampant dishonesty, such as Jordan: “She was incurably dishonest. ” Nick describes a time when they went to a party together and “she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it. ” Traditional religious values have been disregarded and replaced by the god of materialism, as illustrated by George: “he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J.
Eckleburg … ‘God sees everything,’ repeated Wilson. ” This proves that the American Dream has not turned America into a harmonious utopia, but instead has encouraged a culture where wealth is more highly regarded than living a good life. This a clear corruption of the original American Dream. This is far removed from the Puritan origins of the American Dream. The Puritans were people who generated wealth through their work ethic and self-reliance, however by the 1920s society had become spiritually empty and obsessed with pleasure seeking. This is illustrated in the novel by the type of people who attend Gatsby’s parties.
One woman, Lucille, says, “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. ” The frenetic excesses of the jazz age, as they were seen, contrasted with the conservatism of the prohibition movement. The rise of provocative dress and dancing, as well as other vices such and gambling and promiscuity, were seen as threatening the moral fabric of society. Despite these pleasures, the post-war ‘lost generation’ were characterised by dissatisfaction, disillusionment and general carelessness as a result of the unbridled materialism that was the product of a corrupt American Dream.
Moreover, Fitzgerald uses the character of Gatsby himself to suggest a corruption of the American Dream. Fitzgerald hints at the unglamorous reality of Gatsby’s life several times in the book, even from the rumours spread by his party guests: “Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once. ” Later on in the novel Gatsby’s own behaviour when Nick asks about his business suggests that he is not as pure as he likes to appear: “I think he hardly knew what he was saying, for when I asked him what business he was in he answered, “That’s my affair,” before he realized that it wasn’t the appropriate reply.
This web of secrecy and deceit suggests although the American Dream appears pure on the surface, it is built upon a web of criminality and corruption. Gatsby’s shady business is likely related to prohibition and the bootlegging of alcohol. This was a very common crime in the 1920s, and bars that sold alcohol were referred to as ‘speakeasies. ’ An example of an affluent bootlegger is Al Capone. Within 2 years, Capone was earning $60 million a year from alcohol sales alone. However, his life was not a glamorous affair; he was caught and spent 11 years in jail. Gatsby never went to jail – he got a life sentence instead.
Fitzgerald suggests that criminality is the only way to achieve the American Dream, signifying that it has been exhaustively corrupted. In light of this, it perplexes me that anyone could claim the Fitzgerald presents a pure vision of the American Dream. Those that oppose my view claim that Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby to present a version of the American Dream that has not been corrupted. There may be some merit to this opinion, especially if we consider the rags-to-riches story of Gatsby. Interestingly, Fitzgerald chooses to introduce the eponymous character in the most understated way imaginable.
For the first few moments that Nick speaks to him in chapter 3, he has no idea that he is talking to the party’s host. This supports the idea that society is classless. Even someone as high up the social ladder as Gatsby is able to blend in and is not treated any differently to the rest of his guests – this suggests that everyone is equal, a vision of the true American Dream. Even though we find out differently in subsequent chapters, you would be forgiven for thinking at this point that Gatsby was a perfectly fulfilled man, wealthy and happy as a result of his hard work and endeavour.
Gatsby has certainly worked hard to acquire all that he has. According to Thomas Wolfe, every man in America has the right to become, “whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him. ” This certainly applies to Gatsby. He represents the American Dream of self-made wealth and happiness, the spirit of youth and resourcefulness, and the ability to defy his past and make something of himself. This certainly is not a corruption of the dream. Furthermore, Nick remarks that he is one of the few guests to be invited – the rest have taken it upon themselves to come, and have received a hearty welcome regardless.
Could this be an extended metaphor for how America is always open to those that wish to achieve their own dreams? Just as Gatsby does not discriminate with his guests, America in the 1920s was a place discovering the effects of mass immigration, a so-called ‘melting pot. ’ Between 1880 and 1920, more than 25 million foreigners arrived on American shores, 9% of whom were Irish. They came seeking to leave their class divided societies behind and instead embrace a nation where all were promised, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For these immigrants the American Dream was very real and not corrupt at all. The claim that in The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald shows the corruption of the America Dream in 1920s America could be contested when we consider the equality enjoyed both by women and minority groups.
Fitzgerald portrays some of the more independent female characters, such as Jordan. Jordan is a star golfer, and Nick states, “almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me. He is so used to seeing submissive women like Daisy, so someone independent like Jordan is fascinating. This could be one of the reasons Nick is attracted to her. Women in the 1920s were given more education and employment opportunities than ever before, and they had recently gained the right to vote. To quote Joshua Zeitz, “she [flappers] flouted Victorian-era conventions and scandalized her parents. In many ways, she controlled her own destiny. ” This idea of independence and emancipation is the embodiment of the American Dream, not a corruption of it.
Finally, Fitzgerald suggests that the boundaries of race can be broken down by the American Dream, despite the archaic views of men like Tom. When the characters are driving into New York they pass a car, “driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. ” A white man serving black people is a reversal of the racism that had dominated society until this point. This was the time of the Harlem Renaissance, a term used to describe a flowering of African-American literature and art in the 1920s, mainly in the Harlem district of New York City.
During the mass migration of African Americans from the rural agricultural south to the urban industrial north, many who came to New York settled in Harlem, as did a good number of black New Yorkers moved from other areas of the city. For the first time they were respected as integral to the community. This was not a corruption of the American Dream, but a realisation of it, which promised equality for all. To conclude, after careful consideration we determine that Fitzgerald uses The Great Gatsby to display the corruption of the American Dream.
He once said, “The idea that we’re the greatest people in the world because we have the most money in the world is ridiculous. ” Ironically, the Wall Street Crash occurred not long after this statement was made; the American Dream was always founded on shaky ground and he reflects this in his novel. The opposing arguments have some merit but ultimately they fail to realise the true implications and context of The Great Gatsby. The final line of the novel shows how the dream always lives on, even if it cannot be fulfilled: “so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. ”